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San Jose volleyball star Averill on Polish life before Paris Olympics

San Jose volleyball star Averill on Polish life before Paris Olympics
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WARSAW, Poland — The pro volleyball career of San Jose’s Taylor Averill has stretched from the historic Italian cities of Padua and Milan to the beaches of France.

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“I’m a sun lover; I love being outside,” when not indoors in the gym, says the 2010 Branham High graduate, now in his third season in Poland. “I love to surf. When the sun is out, I am outside.”

With that as a backdrop, middle blocker Averill certainly had to sacrifice warmer climates when he decided to play in Poland, where it gets dark at 3:30 p.m. in late December and is mostly gray and overcast in January and February.

“When I was at Cannes, on the beach, life was pretty great,” he says of his time in southern France.

The tradeoff is worth it, according to Averill. The Polish league is considered the best in Europe, the national men’s team of Poland, which won the European championship last summer in Italy, is ranked No. 1 in the world.

“I am lucky to be playing here,” says the 6-foot-7 Averill, sitting in a breakfast restaurant one morning earlier this year in the southern part of capital Warsaw. “The system they have set up here for volleyball is so cool. They have set it up to be as professional as possible. Italy is close. Volleyball is the No. 1 sport in Poland, which is cool.”

Averill, a member of the U.S. national team for about 10 years and a Paris Olympics hopeful, is one of less than 10 Americans to play in the top volleyball league in Poland this season.

He is the only American on his team (Projekt Warszawa), made up mostly of Poles, but the roster also includes players from Germany, Belgium, and France. Projekt finished the season in third place after falling in the playoffs last month, then winning a consolation match.

Volleyball players on the national team in Poland are treated like stars. “Like LeBron James,” notes Averill. “They are like NBA stars.”

Pro men’s and women’s matches are shown on national Polish TV several nights a week – more than the Polish men’s basketball league that has had more than 70 Americans playing here this season.

Averill wishes volleyball stars in the United States were more known to the average sports fan.

Taylor Averill and Projekt Warsaw teammates celebrate with a third-place trophy after defeating Rzeszow to earn bronze medals for the 2024 PlusLiga season in a match on April 26, 2024. (Adam Starszynski / PressFocus/Sipa via AP Images) 

His team won the French title in 2021. He flew home the next morning to California to begin training with the U.S. national team in Anaheim. “I was on such a high,” he says. “When I landed at LAX, I realized no one (in the US) cared (about volleyball in France). It was an interesting feeling.”

Averill, who turned 32 on March 5, was on the U.S. national team last summer as the Americans lost to Poland in the championship match of the FIVB Volleyball Men’s Nations League in Gdansk, near the Baltic Sea in northern Poland.

Averill said he expects the final U.S. roster to be announced in late May for the Paris Games, where volleyball will be held July 27 to August 11.

“It would be a really cool way to wrap up my career,” he says of the Olympics. “It is such an honor to play in the Olympics and for me, it would be a great way to help people who helped me along the way. It would be nice to give them something as well – for my high school, Branham High School, for my club team – Bay to Bay Volleyball when I was young playing for them – to be able to represent San Jose and a player out of that area would be really cool.”

Averill is among four middle blockers fighting for three roster spots.

“It is really competitive,” he says. “We all love each other but we all want to make the roster.”

Another American playing volleyball in Poland is Kaleb Jenness, an outside blocker from South Carolina who was a standout at Division I Ball State in Indiana. His team played on the road against Averill in January, with Projekt winning before a sellout crowd of about 2,000 fans not far from the apartment that Averill is provided by his club.

“Taylor is a fun player to watch. He competes at an extremely high level and has a deep knowledge of the game. Every time he is on the court, he’s giving 100% effort and making plays. You can tell he really loves the sport and has put in the work to get to where he is at,” according to Jenness. “As an attacker, he’s got a really fast arm and runs complex routes with ease. As a blocker, he’s very intentional with his footwork, arm swing, and hand placement. As a player, he’s creative and hard working.”

One of the few American women playing pro volleyball this season in Poland is Mac May, who is from Iowa and was an All-American at UCLA.

During the season, Averill’s team generally has one off day per week and on average Projekt plays two matches a week – both as part of the 16-team Polish league and contests against teams from outside of the country.

They played on the road this season in France, Finland, and Romania, for example.

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Most away matches in the Polish league are less than four hours by bus. Poland has a population of about 40 million and is about the size of New Mexico.

Off the court, Averill enjoys writing short stories, dabbling in music, and hosting a weekly podcast with a Polish volleyball player. He said the mental aspect of being a pro athlete overseas can be harder than physical demands.

Taylor Averill is photographer in 2010 as the Mercury News volleyball player of the year from Branham High School. (Jim Gensheimer/Mercury News)

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Taylor Averill is photographer in 2010 as the Mercury News volleyball player of the year from Branham High School. (Jim Gensheimer/Mercury News) 

“Tallest Podcast on Earth” is the name of the series that drops a new episode on Tuesdays.

“Taylor Averill is a professional volleyball player, part of Team USA, bronze medalist, and part time sinner. The podcast explores the ins and outs of playing pro volleyball on and off the court. Taylor shares his own experiences and interviews fellow athletes, sports psychologists, nutritionists, and more,” according to the description of the podcast, which has more than 1,700 subscribers on YouTube.

He comes from a talented family: His father, Mark, is a music pastor, his mother, Lisa, has been an educator and life coach and his brother is a songwriter based in Los Angeles. His parents are still in San Jose.

Born in Portland, Averill played four years at Branham and led the team to the Central Coast Section title and an overall record of 25-3 his senior season. He was a two-time NCVA all-tournament pick and the MVP in 2009. Averill also competed for Bay to Bay Volleyball Club for three years.

After graduating from Branham, Averill began his college career at UC Irvine but was there just one semester. He then transferred to Hawaii, playing for the Rainbows from 2012-15. As a senior, he made the AVCA All-American first team and won Hawaii’s 2015 Jack Bonham Award. He led the MPSF and ranked second in the nation in hitting percentage at .488 and was fifth in the country in blocking with 151 total blocks.

He spent his first three pro seasons in Italy and then moved to the French league.

A big-time surfer, Averill gave up the sunny beaches of southern France in Cannes when he signed a two-year contract in 2021 to play in Poland for AZS Olsztyn, a city in northeast Poland with a seating capacity of about 4,200 fans at its home court.



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